I love fried green tomatoes, but with a garden full of them, we can't fry them all and stay dedicated to eating healthy.
Green tomatoes battered with cornmeal and flour and fried in fat produces a unique flavor that is hard to capture any other way. This summer, with 16 tomato plants in nine varieties, I decided to experiment with ways to enjoy the greenish tomatoes before our local critter population could get them.
Chowchow or green-tomato relish makes practical use of the fruit of the vine, but it doesn't come close to the fried version.
I categorize any stage of partially ripened tomatoes as green. Tomatoes ranging from green and yellow to orange or pinkish orange are quite good when selected for baking or taken inside to finish getting ripe.
I halved the tomatoes, then sliced across the stem and blossom ends so the tomato would sit flat for baking and serving. This technique works great for any tomato, especially when your tomato crop reaches a daily production level that calls for a quick dump into a prepared casserole dish and 20 or so minutes in the oven.
But if you're not overflowing with tomatoes, consider taking a little extra time to step up the flavor.
Back before I learned about panko crumbs, I combined regular breadcrumbs with some Italian seasoning, minced onion, salt and pepper, a small amount of butter and Parmesan cheese to make a topping for baking tomatoes. I now use olive oil instead of the butter, exclude the Parmesan and use panko instead of regular breadcrumbs.
I like to mix my homemade crumb mixture with fresh pesto and stir a few heaping tablespoons over a mixing bowl full of quartered and halved tomatoes, salt the contents and carefully stir until the tomatoes are thoroughly dressed. You can also add sliced onions to liven things up.
Transfer this mixture to a prepared casserole dish and bake in a 350-degree oven and bake until the tomatoes soften and the crumbs begin to brown. Don't worry about having uniformly ripe tomatoes; the variety makes the finished dish that much more complex.
You can freeze the mixture for some creative uses later on: Add a special layer of flavor to spaghetti sauce or garden fresh topper for your favorite meatloaf. Think of the baked tomato combo as a vehicle for getting more vegetables into your diet. Toss in some small whole okra pods or slices of zucchini before roasting, and you have even more vegetables incorporated into your diet.
Want a crispy finish? Use panko, the light crispy Japanese breadcrumbs. Slice the tomato in half, trim the ends so it will rest evenly then prepare the crumb mixture. I sprinkle the bottom of the prepared baking dish with the crumbs — then the tops of the tomatoes — for baking to mimic the texture of the fried green tomatoes.
Depending on the size of the tomatoes, vary the thickness of the slices. For the two of us, I use only one or two medium to large tomatoes for a green tomato side dish. I can usually get three half-inch thick slices from one tomato, which makes a perfect portion.
Want cheese? Stick to sharp varieties. Parmesan variations — even blue cheese — worked into the crumbs are good. Keep the amount to the minimum: You don't want to mask that unmistakable green tomato flavor. Less than a teaspoon for each tomato slice is sufficient. Use a little garlic salt or powder in the crumbs instead of minced onion to maintain crispness.
There's more than one way to enjoy green tomatoes, and this method is a healthier way to capture that distinct flavor of fried green tomatoes.
Un-fried Green Tomatoes
2 or 3 medium to large green tomatoes makes 2 servings (These can be in any form of preripeness, from green to yellow, pink or orange)
½ cup panko, divided (1/3 cup for topping)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon basil pesto
SOURCE: Sherrel Jones